"The fine art of hanging out." That's what Gay Talese called it. He was talking about reporting, spending serious time in the presence of your subject, time to observe the story unfold before your eyes. I thought of Talese and hanging out as I was reporting this piece in Arizona.
A few weeks ago, an editor of mine asked if I had any ideas for political stories set out west. I pitched him on traveling to Arizona and writing about the voter registration efforts by left-leaning groups focused on Latinos. This is the year of Donald Trump, and Democrats are hoping to translate the widespread anger in Latino communities at Trump's anti-immigrant vitriol into votes for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. Could Arizona finally turn purple?
My editor's boss at the magazine came back with a better, counter-intuitive idea: Let's find out what enlightened Republicans, the ones who believe the GOP needs Latino voters to survive, are doing to win over Latinos in this Republican annus horribilis. I flew to Arizona. I went to phone banks, interviewed poli sci profs and consultants, tagged along with volunteers. I ate a lot of great Mexican food and In 'n' Out. But I didn't have a story. I hadn't found the right scene or the right figure that captured our idea.
Then I met Sergio Arellano, the guy in charge of Latino outreach for the Arizona Republican Party. "Your timing couldn't be better, my man," he told me on the phone. "One of our biggest events is July 4th down in Nogales. Big-time Democratic city. You gotta come." My photographer, Caitlin O'Hara, and I drove down to Nogales and spent a long, hot, and fascinating day watching Sergio and his team try to convince Latinos in a historically Democratic border town to vote GOP. Six days of nerve-jangling hanging out and I'd found my story.
Persuading Latinos to vote Republican in the year of Trump
The California Sunday Magazine | July 12, 2016
On the Fourth of July, Sergio Arellano dragged himself out of bed before sunrise and pulled on baggy jeans and a T-shirt that read "REPUBLICAN ACTION TEAM." As the strategic initiatives director for the Arizona Republican Party, Arellano is responsible for Latino outreach, and he was headed for Nogales, a border town whose population of 20,000 is overwhelmingly Latino and Democratic. In other words, he was going into enemy territory to promote Donald Trump, Senator John McCain (who is seeking a sixth term), and several other Republican candidates running for local office. Latinos make up 31 percent of Arizona’s population. That number is growing so rapidly that many think it’s only a matter of time before what was once a solidly red state shades purple and then turns blue. It is Arellano’s job to prevent this from happening.